Shellfish harvesting information
Eating contaminated shellfish can be life threatening!
Always check marine biotoxin and sanitary contamination closures for the area where you are harvesting. Closures change frequently throughout the year. It is illegal to harvest shellfish from closed or contaminated areas.
- Check the area you intend to fish for regulations and restrictions - individual species limits apply
- Know the location of area closures and find out what fishing activities are permitted - in many areas of British Columbia, fishing is not allowed or is restricted
- You must have a tidal waters sport fishing license to harvest shellfish in salt water, including tidal water boundary areas in rivers
- Identify your catch. Shellfish include all aquatic invertebrates: clams, cockles, crabs, mussels, oysters, prawns, scallops, sea urchins, and shrimp. Octopus, sea cucumbers and squid are also managed as shellfish in British Columbia
- The harvesting of abalone, an endangered species in British Columbia, is prohibited. All areas are closed for conservation purposes
- It is illegal to keep Olympia oysters
- Special limits apply for shellfish in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
- Harvesting shellfish from clam or oyster aquaculture sites is prohibited without permission from the lease holder
Maa-nulth Treaty Lands
In 2006, the governments of Canada and British Columbia signed an historic agreement with the Maa-nulth First Nations. In accordance with that agreement, some sites in Area 23 and Area 26 are restricted to shellfish harvesting by Maa-nulth Treaty members only.
- Only fish offal, herring, mackerel, northern anchovy and Pacific sardine may be used as bait. No other finfish may be used as bait
Lines, traps, buoys:
- All shellfish traps must be marked with a floating tag or buoy that has your name on it
- Use highly visible buoys, large enough to stay afloat in tides and currents in your fishing area. Only one name can appear on the buoy attached to your trap(s). Names and phone numbers must be legible and visible (at least 7.5 cm high)
- Do not use: gear marked with another fisher’s name. Avoid plastic jugs, bottles and Styrofoam blocks that may deteriorate or sink, or are hard to see or mark
- Navigation channels must be kept clear of lines and buoys. Use sinking line and/or weights, or coil excess line to keep it below the surface during all tide levels without sinking the buoy. Any fishing gear that interferes with safe navigation can be removed under the Navigation Protection Act
- Be aware of hook and line, downrigger and trap gear entanglement risks in the vicinity of the UVIC Venus project in Pat Bay, Saanich Inlet. For more information, visit: http://www.oceannetworks.ca/installations/notice-mariners
- You may use mechanical devices to recover your traps
- You may set multiple traps on a single ground line following the line and marking requirements outlined in the table below:
|Line and marking requirements for combining traps|
|Single trap||1 floating tag or buoy that has your name on it.|
|Two traps||Single ground line marked with 1 floating tag or buoy that has your name on it.|
|Three traps or more
Note: Max. 2 traps for crab harvesting
|Single ground line. Both ends of the ground line require a floating tag or buoy that has your name on it.|
Notes on specific shellfish
- It is illegal to use any mechanical apparatus or dredge for harvesting clams
- Clam harvesters are encouraged to fill in holes to reduce predation on exposed juvenile clams
- Learn about crab fishing gear
- You are not allowed to use sharp-pointed instruments, snares, hand pumps or chemicals to harvest octopus
Shrimp and Prawn
- When you set your traps remember that your daily catch limit is not a fishing target and prawns are seasonally variable and short-lived. Take only what you need
- You may harvest shrimp only by means of traps, ring nets, or spear while diving
- A maxiumum of 4 traps is allowed on a single ground line with a floating tag or buoy required at both ends
- 2 cm (3/4 in) mesh, or 2.5 cm (1 in.) from knot to knot, will catch a good size range of prawns and allow smaller prawns to easily escape
- You should use rot cord on all prawn traps (this recommendation may soon become a requirement). Create an opening in the top or side wall of your trap that can be sewn shut with a single strand of untreated cotton twine no greater than #120. The opening should be large enough so that if the trap is lost and the twine rots, captive prawns are able to escape
- Hauling your gear slowly allows smaller prawns and bycatch to exit before traps are brought on board
Check all your gear carefully and remove and release all bycatch. You must release incidental catch alive, to the place where you caught it, in a way that causes the least harm to the fish.
- Learn about handling crab catch.
- For conservation purposes, fishers are asked to voluntarily release prawns carrying eggs under their tail (egg-bearing females) and smaller prawns
- Many rockfish populations are depressed and must be released from prawn traps
Packaging and transporting
Do not hang your bivalve shellfish off docks, or off the side of a vessel where travelling, as the waters you are in could be contaminated.
- Bivalve shellfish that you harvest may be shucked or cooked while you’re in the field (e.g., on a beach). However, they must stay in a condition that makes them easy to count and identify until they arrive at your ordinary residence
- So that the size of your crab can be checked, the shell of any sport-caught crab must stay attached to the body until the crab is eaten or arrives at your ordinary residence
Labelling your container or cooler
- When individuals are transporting or shipping catch they must package their catch separately and only have one name per package. However, they may share a container. It is recommended that the contents (number of fish, species, and number of packages) be listed on the outside of the container to facilitate inspection
- It is recommended that you store and transport your catch in containers and packages intended for food
Prawn - best practices
- Expect biological monitoring and respect seasonal and area closures in the spring during the commercial fishery and again in the fall/winter during spawning season
- Seasonal, biological sampling is an important practice used to determine that there are enough spawning females in the population in any given area. Even when male prawns are abundant, an area may be closed due to a lower count of spawning females
- Winter is when the highest number of spawning females are present. During this time recreational harvesters are encouraged to respect area closures or, if areas are open, to protect egg-bearing females by returning them to the water in support of future stock strength.
What to expect?
Wild prawns are a short-lived, complex species. As part of their reproductive process prawns transition from male to female halfway through their 4-year lifecycle. Pacific prawn fisheries are seasonally monitored and managed for population health to ensure sustainable fishing opportunities for all licenced prawn harvesters throughout the region.
When it comes to prawn fishing there is no such thing as "an average condition of abundance". Every season marks a new life stage and environmental conditions that impact survival, stock strength and what you can expect to see in the water or inside your trap. One thing is certain: count on a variable mix of life stages and catch success every season, area to area, year over year, throughout the region.
Seasonal monitoring and pulse fishing
In Saanich Inlet, Stuart Channel and Alberni Inlet, “pulse” fishing (closed in the first half of the month and open in the second half of the month) may be implemented after Labour Day weekend to increase prawn escapement and prawn abundance. Closures may be implemented January 1 to March 31 in waters around Quadra and Cortes Islands; the communities of Powell River and Lund; Sechelt and Salmon Inlets; Malaspina and lower Jervis Straits, Stuart Channel, Saanich Inlet, Alberni Inlet, Tahsis Inlet, Muchalat Inlet and Howe Sound, to allow the prawn spawning cycle to complete. Confirmation of these closures are made in-season. Read our Q&A on prawn and shrimp pulse fishing for more information.
Informational posters for Recreational Prawn Fishers
- Recreational prawn fishing. What to expect?
- Prawns spawn! Expect a variety of prawn life stages every season!
|What you can expect to see||What's important this season|
||New lifecycle begins. New larvae may not be visible but they live in the upper water column for up to 3 months as they settle to the ocean floor. Once settled, they mature as males for the first two years of life. Larvae distribution is dependent upon tides and currents, which means that each local area will have different adult prawn abundance from year to year|
||After an 8-month male-to-female gender transition period, newly transitioned 3-year-old females will breed with younger, 1- and 2-year-old males.|
||Spawning starts in October. Large, mature, egg-bearing females increase in prominence and seasonal closures will be in effect to protect them.|
||Winter closures will be in effect to protect large, mature, egg-bearing females as their eggs prepare to hatch before the 4-year lifecycle ends.|
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